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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1451

Mr GRIFFITHS(10.30) —It would be tempting to respond to some of the comments in the contribution by the honourable member for Fisher (Mr Slipper), but I shall not, except to note in passing that members of his Party, in the fragile coalition, are bullying senators to ensure that they do not cross the floor and vote in favour of the Australia Card Bill in the Senate. It is a matter of record that within the coalition parties there is a strong sentiment in support of the Australia Card proposal.

Mr Nehl —Just as there is opposition in your Party.

Mr GRIFFITHS —The initial opposition to it was predicated upon- -

Mr Nehl —Has anyone from your side ever crossed the floor?

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Cowper will extend to the honourable member for Maribyrnong the same courtesy the House gave the honourable member for Fisher.

Mr Nehl —But I'm right, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER —He will also heed the Chair.

Mr GRIFFITHS —I was embracing my more statesman-like approach, but I might be tempted now to give honourable members opposite a good bucketing.

Madam SPEAKER —I do not think I would yield to temptation, if I were you.

Mr GRIFFITHS —I defer to your judgment, Madam Speaker. The Australia Card debate is indicative of the coalition's obviously opportunistic approach to issues before this Parliament. It is a matter of public record that there is wide sentiment among the coalition members of this chamber in support of the Australia Card proposal. There is hardly a member on this side of the House who has not had discussions of a private nature with honourable members opposite. I will not indicate who those people are; nevertheless, a number of them strongly support the Australia Card proposal, but will not vote for it because they can see that there is a bit of political gain to be squeezed out of the issue. Senators from the coalition parties have indicated as recently as today that they may cross the floor and vote in favour of the Australian Card proposal. The reason becomes irrelevant.

The question still must be: Why are some of those senators prepared to do that if this is such a terrible thing? The previous speaker talked about how terrible this matter would be coming from the Australian Parliament, but no mention was made of the fact that Canada, the United States of America, France, Italy, the Netherlands, West Germany, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland and Sweden, among others, already have identification card systems. Why do they have those? The reasons are perfectly obvious. Most people on this side of the House, including my self, referred to those reasons in some considerable detail when this matter was discussed late last year. Madam Speaker, I would like to make a couple of points- -

Mr Hodgman —`Mr Deputy Speaker'; are you going blind?

Mr GRIFFITHS —I am sorry, there has been a quick change. I could say a lot of things about Mr Deputy Speaker, but I would never refer to him as Madam Speaker. There are a number of important issues surrounding the Australia Card. I have a whole table of quotes from senior members of the Opposition, including the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Chaney), the one-time President of the Victorian branch of the Liberal Party of Australia, the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite), the Deputy Leader of the National Party of Australia (Mr Hunt) and the shadow Minister for Social Security, the honourable member for Richmond (Mr Blunt). I shall not go over those because I referred to them in the debate late last year, but they confirm my initial comments about the widespread sentiment in the coalition ranks in support of the Australia Card proposal. At the end of the day decisions before this House have to be put into some kind of perspective. It is no secret that when the Australia Card proposal was originally mooted I, with some of my colleagues on this side of the House, indicated public opposition to the proposal.

Dr Harry Edwards —Is that so?

Mr GRIFFITHS —That is right. I indicated opposition to the concept because at that time there was no talk of appropriate safeguards for privacy. Of course, much of the legitimate opposition to the original concept has now been addressed by the Government and it is accurate to say that this package of proposals from the Government will enhance the privacy of all Australians. Coming from a background in the law and having had for a considerable time an active interest in issues of civil liberties, I would take a bit of convincing on any proposal that might minimise the civil liberties of ordinary Australians.

A good issue to compare this one with, just to show how hypocritical the Opposition can be on these issues, is telephone interceptions. The Opposition is saying that the Australia Card proposal, albeit with all the package of safeguards that is being incorporated, is such a terrible thing-it will be the downfall of Australian civil liberties and so on-and, at the very same time, it is arguing for a massive extension of telephone interception powers to all the State police forces. The two issues are fundamentally different. One, of course, by definition implies a potentially much greater invasion of civil liberties. Yet the Opposition takes two completely different approaches. Of course, its views are predicated on the political advantage it believes will accrue to it by adopting its two courses on those issues. It ought to be condemned for that.

The Opposition has taken that approach on a range of government proposals. Perhaps it has to as an opposition. Nevertheless, there is a fundamental inconsistency and hypocrisy involved when it approaches these two issues on a different basis. It is worth looking at the amounts of money that will accrue. There is considerable debate about the amounts of money that will be saved in terms of fraud and taxation avoidance and so on. That is a legitimate area of debate. But, if one area of agreement seems to be emerging, it is that the Government's figures used initially are conservative. Many hundreds of millions of dollars are involved. I think most honourable members on a regular basis are at the coalface of politics where they have to make decisions about competing priorities and limited resources. I was very interested to read a document which received wide publicity recently, the coalition savings options paper. This is what it is all about at the end of the day. As a government we need to ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, ordinary honest Australians are not subsidising others who are not prepared to contribute their fare share to running our society, our democracy. To put this debate into financial context, the coalition savings option paper, for example-I do not say it is at this point official; I know it is only an option papers at this point-refers to the abolition of the indexation of pensions. For goodness sake, that would have a massive impact on the ordinary pensioners of Australia. It would significantly reduce their living standards. Yet, at the same time as this paper is being circulated as an official option paper within the coalition, members of the coalition are in this House arguing against a quite sensible proposal that will garner hundreds of millions of dollars that can be used, as an example, to ensure that we do not have to knock off the indexation of pensions. I challenge Opposition members to go out into the community to Australia's pensioners-those who rely on the whole range of government benefits-and to say to them that they may have their level of pensions reduced. At the same time Opposition members are opposing a massive potential revenue source in a sensible proposal, that is, the Australia Card. Of course, the absurdity of that situation would not be lost on them; they would not have the guts to do it.

A whole range of other areas were referred to, such as the tightening of the supporting parent's benefits. `Tighten' is a great word, is it not? No detailed proposals are given; just a reference to `tighten', an attack on single mothers. They are always seen by those opposite to be an appropriate target around which some hysteria can be built up. Again, this is an easy political option. Another option given is the phased removal of pensions for women aged less than 65 years. That has drawn comments that indicate that it will not be proceeded with.

Personally, I do not trust that. At the end of the day this Opposition has indicated a level of expenditure cuts and other savings. It will have to look at some of these areas; there is no doubt about that.

The Opposition proposes to subsidise free lunches. That is its policy. It is not a matter of my subjective view; it is the official policy of the coalition that it will reinstitute taxation arrangements whereby business men and women spending a couple of hours over lunch, having the best of wines and the best of food will be able to claim that expenditure as a legitimate taxation deduction. This is proposed at the same time as honourable members opposite are talking about attacking the living standards of single mothers. For goodness' sake, I find it almost obscene. Nevertheless, I suggest that they go out into the community and argue their case. Of course, they will not. We will not hear a word about it unless they have their backs up against the wall and have to come clean on what their policies are.

In the health area, those opposite propose to reduce the Medicare rebate from 85 per cent to 75 per cent. Again, they should compare that proposal with the Australia Card proposal. For goodness' sake, the Opposition is going to attack people in a whole range of areas. It says that it will abolish bulk billing, increase charges for pharmaceutical benefits, abolish the community employment program and Jobstart, abolish Austrade and abolish the fertiliser subsidies. It intends to freeze Commonwealth staff numbers-attack a public servant; a fairly common proposal. In education, it intends to abolish the participation and equity program, abolish the Commonwealth Schools Commission and abolish the Education Department. It will abolish, for goodness' sake, the first home owners scheme. It is difficult enough, and has been for a very long time, for young couples to get started. Honourable members opposite come into this House to support the return of an obscene tax policy under which entertainment expenses for businessmen will again be legitimate taxation deductions and at the same time to support the abolition of the first home owners scheme. It is almost unbelievable, but it is all here in this document.

There has been a whole range of expenditure cutting proposals. It is a fundamental reality that if, as we assumed, the Opposition backs down on its consumption tax proposal and substitutes an extension of wholesale taxes as per the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) on 11 March, it will have revenue of $2,000m to offset against promises of-wait for it-$14,700m. The absurdity of that credibility gap is patently obvious, yet a legitimate and sensible revenue raising proposal before this Parliament-the Australia Card Bill-is being opposed. This Opposition ought to be seen for what it is. It is hypocritical across a whole spectrum of policies, but nowhere is it so obviously hypocritical as in the context of this Australia Card debate.